Like many people these past few days, I’ve been listening to a lot of John Prine songs after hearing that he was a victim of COVID-19 earlier in the week. So it goes.
I actually got to see perform him live once (which was also when I learned who he was). I went to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island wanting to see Brandi Carlile (and Scott and Freddie came along wanting to see Andrew Bird). The headliner that day was Prine… and none of us had ever heard of him. But Brandi said he was good, and I trust her musical taste, so I gave him a try and found that I liked his wistful, yet sometimes funny lyrics. (And it turns out I already knew at least one of his songs: “Angel From Montgomery,” which I knew as a Bonnie Raitt song.) And so, as she introduced me to him, it’s somewhat appropriate that as I’ve been listening to Prine’s stuff this past week, I’ve gravitated towards songs he sang with Brandi, one of which, “Summer’s End,” Brandi did solo earlier in the week as her own tribute.
In this weird time of social distancing that we’re living in, I’ve been more or less confined alone to my one bedroom apartment in Oakland. When I started seeing the numbers and predictions of what this novel coronavirus was going to do, I knew that this time of social distancing — which for those of us that live alone is hard to distinguish from social isolation — would last awhile. It occurred to me that instead of sitting alone and working remotely in California, maybe I should pick up and head home to work remotely from Minnesota where I could be with my parents and my sister and dog… not to mention a yard and a lot more space than my apartment offers. But I didn’t do it and now it feels like that window has passed.
All of this is to say… the line “Come on home, you don’t have to be alone” from “Summer’s End” hit me hard. The first time I heard it, I burst into tears. And as I’m wont to do when I hear a song that makes me cry, I decided to learn it myself. I’m not a great guitar player — and my guitar is currently missing a string anyway. But I have a tenor ukulele, a three string cigar box guitar that I can pretend is a bass guitar, and a copy of GarageBand on my laptop. And from my travels to New Zealand a year ago, I also have a band name for myself: Doubtful Sound.
(Doubtful is appropriate as I can hear every imperfection, but I’m also too tired to go back and re-record all the tracks.)